YEMEN: Child Care Scheme Helps Refugee Women Become Breadwinners

ADEN, 24 June 2010 (IRIN) – Mohammed Abdullah’s voice reverberates around the small rooms of a child care centre. He sings a well known Somali children’s song about a rabbit that was told to stay at home whilst his parents went to work. But the rabbit did not heed their advice and left home – only to be eaten by a monkey.

The child care centre, in the home of Saida Ahmed Omar, hosts between 30-40 children of working mothers, and is one of 15 in Basateen, a slum area of Aden, home to about 40,000 Somalis and Yemenis with Somali ties.

“My mum works as a cleaner,” said Mohammed, 10. “My Dad sometimes washes cars, but it is Mum who brings us money and food.” Whilst his father earns 2,000 YR (about US$8.8) per month, his mother earns 15,000 YR (about $66).

In Somali communities in southern Yemen, women are increasingly becoming the family breadwinners. According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNCHR) Global Report 2009, there were 161,500 Somali refugees in Yemen.

The NGO Society for Humanitarian Solidarity (SHS), a partner organization of UNHCR and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), is the chief architect of the child care centres which started in 2007. They are located in the homes of mothers who volunteer to look after other people’s children.

“We provided a system and teachers. The centres are provided by the women themselves,” said SHS spokesperson Nada Ali. 

Each centre looks after about 30 children supervised by three teachers. “We have divided the children by age and created activities to match,” said Ali. “That way children can both be looked after when their mothers work and at the same time receive some education.”

Stage one for the 1-4 year-olds is play time with toys. In stage two 4-6 year-olds learn to hold pens and spend time drawing. Stage three for children over six provides basic education covering the alphabet, English, Arabic, Islamic teaching and songs. The scheme provides school uniforms and bags, and extra curricular activities, for children in school.

The child care centres look after children aged 0-12. “I earn 100 YR (44 cents) per child per day whilst the mothers work,” said Saida. “If the mothers can’t afford it I often just look after their children for free.”

“I used to tie my children to the bed when I went to work,” said Kammar Ahmed, a mother of three in one of the centres. “Many women do that so the children do not get hurt by playing with the gas or electricity.”

Kammar sells clothes on the busy streets of Basateen earning 500-600 YR ($2-2.5) a day. Her husband left her so she is the sole provider. “Without the child care centre I would have to tie up my children every day,” she said.

Role reversal

Noora Osman works as a housekeeper and has three children; the youngest is three months old. “Before I heard about the child care centres I had to bring the youngest child to work,” she said. However, the owner of the house where she cleaned asked her not to and she almost had to quit her job. “My baby was too small to be in the house without supervision.”

She giggles at the suggestion that her husband who is unemployed should look after the children while she works. “In our culture men don’t look after children,” she said and added: “I am tired of him; all he does is chew `qat’ [a mild narcotic leaf] while I work.”

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